This week I was shown this video “What is Spec Work?” by a professor of mine, and it got me thinking. Spec Work is cover language that means working for free. The video makes a few good points on the topic, that I think all young designers should keep in mind.
The first is that you should never do free work for established companies. If you are needing more material for your portfolio then start by finding smaller projects for family, friends, and local businesses, and do them for dirt cheap if you need to. Most professional designers get paid somewhere between $80-$400/hr so asking for $30 bucks to design a flyer isn’t breaking anyones bank.
There are two common ways that companies try to get spec work out of designers. One is by asking multiple designers/firms to create sample work. The other is by holding contests. Ideally you won’t ever find yourself in this position, because the best work is produced when both the designer and the client are working together to produce a final product. In this way, you as the designer get to do great work and get steady income, and your client gets a design they can be proud of because their feedback was a part of creating it.
We talked about how to avoid this, and the power of the all-mighty contract. Contracts make sure that both the designer and the client are invested in the project. And makes both parties clear on exactly what is to be expected. By taking this step you make sure that the work you create is safe, and that terms remain the same over the course of the project.
The point of all this is to take yourself seriously as a professional. When you’re just start your career, understanding how to evaluate your own talents is crucial to establishing your brand. Most of what we do as designers if fun, but you have to development some business savvy to go along with the passion for design.
I recently read a book by cartoonist Hugh Macleod titled “Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity.” The book was a brief, comical, and incredibly worthwhile read highlighting 40 lessons Macleod has learned over the years working in creative industries. After reading the book, I found some of my favorites and thought I’d share my insights.
1) Ignore Everybody
In a field where feedback is key, this can seem like an odd idea. Paying attention to constructive critiques and taking inspiration from other design is part of the process. Macleod means that when you have a great idea, it can often change the balance between you and your peers. As a result sometimes your favorite ideas will get a lot of early questioning. Macleod stresses the importance of an artist having a well formed idea, and keeping the goal of the design in mind throughout the work.
2) Keep Your Day Job
I’m planning on working more than one job at a time in the coming years. Some people see this as a bad thing, for a while the idea of having to work a job and freelance on the side was intimidating to me as well. But Macleod’s perspective is that keeping a more steady (even if slightly boring) job is more than worth it.
First of all keeping a steady job means steady income, never a bad thing. But also it means that all of the jobs you take on the side can be the most most fun jobs, where you can keep your original ideas your own. By having both as a source of income, both become relatively low pressure because you aren’t entirely dependent on either.
3) Honesty Works
This one is simple. He is saying that people know when they’re being sold to, and tend to really hate it. When someone is speaking to a crowd, it’s different than having a personal conversation with them. This is true for your ideas too. The strongest ideas speak for themselves. When an idea is great the truth is most convincing, and it doesn’t need selling.